If you have a hard time motivating yourself to hang out with people, connecting with your friends, or carrying on a conversation, you might brand yourself “antisocial.” As a result, you might even wonder if you have what’s known as antisocial personality disorder—but that name is a little misleading because it doesn’t describe a disorder whose symptoms align with our cultural understanding of being antisocial. Let’s take a look at what the symptoms really are, how it presents, and what it does mean for those who have it.
You might just come to the conclusion you’re a little introverted—but even that descriptor is often misunderstood.
What is antisocial personality disorder?
Antisocial personality disorder (APD) is sometimes used interchangeably with sociopathy, though they’re not quite the same. Sociopathy is itself a version of APD that differs from psychopathy, which is also an antisocial personality disorder. As Healthline explains, people with high-function APD can usually do typical “everyday” activities, like work or maintain a marriage. While the DSM-5 doesn’t use “high-” or “low-functioning” to describe people with antisocial personality disorder, people considered to have a lower-functioning APD aren’t quite as polished or polite when masking the manipulation that is key to the disorder. Here are the symptoms of APD, per the Mayo Clinic:
Disregard for right and wrong
Persistent lying or deceit to exploit other people
Callousness, cynicism, and disrespect
Charming or using wit to manipulate others, whether for gain or pleasure
Arrogance, a sense of superiority, and an opinionated nature
Recurring problems with the law, which can include criminal behavior
Violation of the rights of others
Hostility, irritability, agitation, aggression, or violence
Lack of empathy or remorse for harming others
Unnecessary risk-taking with no regard for safety, whether or self or others
Poor or abusive relationships
Failure to consider negative consequences or learn from them
Being consistently irresponsible
Dr. Tony Ferretti, a psychologist who specializes in APD, explained that the disorder can develop as early as age 11, but that a conduct disorder usually develops first in childhood (usually before age 15) before morphing into APD. While it’s typically a lifelong condition, some symptoms of APD may decrease over time, though it remains unclear whether that’s a result of aging or increased awareness of the consequences.
If you have these symptoms, could you have APD?
You might have related to a few of the symptoms listed above, whether because of a bad track record with the law, poor relationships, or a general disregard for other people’s feelings. This doesn’t automatically mean you have APD.
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“People can have traits or characteristics of APD without having the full-blown disorder,” Ferretti said. “It becomes a disorder when their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors develop into a persistent pattern that deviates from the culture. Their longterm pattern will interfere with their functioning vocationally, socially, and interpersonally, cause distress, and last over time.”
People with this disorder can be charming, witty, and fun, he added, but they tend to be manipulative and have an end game in mind, in addition to blaming others and avoiding responsibility for their own actions. If you’re really concerned you might have APD, look at the patterns in your life, especially your relationships. People with the disorder have a hard time with interpersonal relationships, as they don’t attach to or connect with others in a way that isn’t superficial.
One bad relationship or mean action does not a full-blown disorder make, so don’t worry if you’re remembering a few times you treated someone with little regard. Note, too, that per Mayo, people who really have APD are unlikely to seek help on their own. If you’re concerned you might have it and want to go to a doctor to find out, that could be a clue that you don’t.
Still, if you’re concerned about antisocial behavior—whether it aligns more with our cultural definition of shyness or introversion, or more with the clinical definition here—it’s worth seeing a professional. Here’s how to find a therapist if you don’t have insurance, and here’s what to look for while you’re searching.